I wonder what it would be like to be sixteen years old again, knowing what I know now.
I don't know why I picked that particular age; fourteen, fifteen or twenty-five would have sufficed. These were times when the ideas about who I thought I am coalesced, and I became by doing. In other words, those were the years when the "runner" narrative began to take its shape. Or, these are my thoughts winding around themselves at 2:00 am as I'm running up Kingsbury to Daggett Summit.
All I can see is the road before my feet, illuminated by the headlamp tightened around my forehead. I can see the flashing red lights of other runners in the distance, but they are only suggestions of forms; nothing quite as tangible as my thoughts. Why have I believed for so long that I am a runner when the years have shown me that I am not?
Maybe it's because I'm running the RTO this year with a team from work which includes a handful of high school students.
I admire their bravery because, even for all my thoughts about "being a runner" I don't think I would have been able to complete the RTO in high school even if I had wanted to. They are willing and excited-- especially at first-- running something like 7-minute flat pace on challenging legs of the race. I think they are either incredibly fit or incredibly crazy.
But then again, it's 2:00 am and I have a high-powered flashlight strapped to my head and I'm climbing a mountain road in the complete darkness when most sane people are at home in their beds, sleeping. So, who am I to judge one's sanity?
I just know that mine crumbled years ago. For those of you who know me, this is an old story, and I won't go into it. Running injury followed running injury and a few very good doctors told me to find a new sport. It was like everything I had every told myself about myself was suddenly not true. To call it massive depression is probably the closest I can come to what those years felt like: my body betrayed me. How I began to look and move through the world wasn't how I looked and felt in my mind or spirit.
Learning to live with that is, perhaps, a part of growing up. But, it doesn't mean it isn't painful. I still think about those days-- even when I'm running up Kingsbury-- how this sort of thing was my life. How all of that changed due to a tendon and a couple of ligaments is still, at some level, incomprehensible to me.
One of the most wonderful parts about facing an injury-- or, any sort of adversity-- is that it has pushed me to try new outlets for this so-called athletic life.
I never would have learned to swim-- much less swim in open water-- had I not been able to run. I never would have ridden double centuries, raced in a criterium or time trials or a triathlon.
The scars are still visible, but they are more interesting when they're covered in water and dirt from new adventures. No life is perfect, and perhaps no one is just one thing. We are a kaleidoscope of experiences tempered by the lenses we create to magnify, to obscure, or to see more clearly.
As I run up Kingsbury, I start to believe that I'm seeing the world through rose colored glasses .
These days, I am not a fast runner.
I am not an elite runner. Running on the trail between Boca and Prosser Reservoir, I smiled at the green meadows, the dappled light in the shade of the pine trees. I was grateful for the stars above me, far beyond the dark forest of the Tahoe Basin at night; the morning breeze which carried hints of juniper and sage that pushed me along on my last leg from Virginia City to Lousetown.
I don't know what kind of an athlete I am. I can say, though, that for the first time in my life, running has made me happy. The simple act of running, no matter my pace; running to run. Running to feel the ground under my feet. Running to feel. Simply, running.
I read once that running has a particular power over us because it is a very physical reminder that we become by doing.
That we are never one thing, but are constantly working toward some other version of ourselves. Maybe not better, but wiser.
No matter good or bad, that running life led me here: this moment when I run and I don't care about my pace and I run because I love it and I want to.
I run over trails. I climb mountains. I put on a pair of shoes and say "OK world, let's do this." Running, this way, brings me back to some long-buried part of myself who was once sixteen and who ran believing that it contained the secret to a good life.
And, over 15 years later, I still believe it could.